Monthly Archives: February 2015

Juvenile Genius: girls and boys writing for the Lady’s Magazine

LM, XXXII (1801). Image © Adam Matthew Digital / Birmingham Central Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

Titles are an important element of a publication’s marketing strategy, and will usually be chosen to draw the attention of a target readership. In the case of the Lady’s Magazine (1770-1837), it is quite likely that the title was meant to position this periodical as an alternative to the long-established Gentleman’s Magazine (1731-1922), suggesting that it offered content of the same standards and prestige as the male-gendered original, but more directly appealing to a female audience. As we have discussed before, it would however be a mistake to assume that the Lady’s Magazine was only read by women. Many of the reader-contributors who submitted unsolicited copy to the magazine were male, and after studying the subscription lists of provincial booksellers, Jan Fergus has furthermore found that men as well as women associated with schools for both boys and girls, and their respective pupils, constituted a significant part of the subscribers.[1] Submissions by these pupils, in a variety of genres, regularly make their appearance in the magazine.

There are several reasons why the Lady’s Magazine would have been deemed suitable reading for younger readers, but we need look no further than the neat summary of the periodical’s mission in its subtitle. This tells us that the magazine is conceived as ‘an Entertaining Companion for the Fair Sex, Appropriated solely to their Use and Amusement’. Even though the many contributors do (cautiously) discuss the issues of the day, editorial notices in the magazine do indicate that submissions were turned down if they were considered potentially offensive, because they would be of a scurrilous or too controversial nature. For the standards of what would be ‘appropriate[d]’, the magazine tends not to distinguish the sensibilities of (adult) women from those of younger readers, as perhaps is typical of the age. For instance, yoking together ‘juvenile’ readers and ‘the [Fair] Sex’, the ‘Preface’ to Vol. IV (1773) aims to dispel all possible misgivings of concerned parents and professional pedagogues by ensuring that

preface 1773

LM, IV (1773). Image © Adam Matthew Digital / Birmingham Central Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

The ‘Use’ mentioned in the subtitle is covered here too, by referring to the prominent educational mission of the magazine. As is often emphasized in the magazine’s internal advertisements, readers could expect more than just light entertainment from the Lady’s Magazine. They would learn from its fiction and essays rules of conduct, and from the many historical or geographical pieces they would get a smattering of book smarts into the bargain. It is clear from the above statement that the editors grasped that the “appropriated” and edifying content could potentially attract a broader readership than only adult women, foremost including younger readers. Many contributions are aimed directly at this demographic, with short fiction about young ladies often set in schools, and essays (usually in the form of letters) that tell daughters or sisters how they should behave there.

From the first year of the Lady’s Magazine onwards, we also find pieces that are attributed to such ‘juvenile’ reader-contributors themselves. Like most of the contributions to the magazine, these are mostly anonymous or pseudonymous, but with precocious young authors the age is sometimes stated, and affiliations with specific schools are often emphasized. No doubt this was an opportunity for the represented schools to advertise the level of their pupils. Especially in its early years, the magazine often included short French essays with the invitation to submit translations for inclusion in the next number, and for instance in 1775 one such translation, suspiciously faultless, appeared from a “G. Stennett, aged ten years, at the Academy, Woodford, Essex” (Vol. VI, p. 180). Perhaps it was common for Miss or Sir to have a quick look at the efforts of their wards before they were sent off. The merits of boarding schools for girls are a topic of debate among correspondents in the magazine’s earlier years, and for those institutions it must have been a concern that they appeared at their best. Additionally, it is possible that the magazine was used as material for classroom assignments. Though some translators can be identified as adults, these translation exercises do noticeably often appear with full mentions of the school or age of teenage contributors. The submission of the class’s best work to the Lady’s Magazine may have been an appealing incentive to ambitious pupils. Translations of short Latin poems and excerpts from the Classics sometimes appear too, and may well have originated as (a boy’s) classwork. After the first decade these possibly didactic items become rarer.

The flow of items in other genres, however, continues unabated. During the entire run of the magazine, ‘enigmatical lists’ are often supplied by girls at boarding schools, who clearly enjoyed writing fanciful descriptions of each other. There is no practical advantage to circulating a riddle throughout the British dominions that could hardly be solved by anyone not living in the same house as you, but let s/he who never chats to colleagues on Facebook cast the first stone. There would of course be the joy of seeing one’s submission in print, which was no doubt an even greater thrill to the many young contributors regularly sending in poems, usually short and lyrical.

hail papa April 1771

LM, I (April 1771), p. 431. Image © Adam Matthew Digital / Birmingham Central Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

Poets will draw inspiration from their surroundings and experiences, and these aspiring bards are no exception. Already in 1771 ‘a female genius at a boarding school in Leicester’ (Vol. I, p. 431) apostrophizes her ‘dear papa’ in a poem about her homesickness. How many now legendary poets started off by writing verse like this?



Dr. Koenraad Claes

School of English, University of Kent

[1] Fergus, Jan. Provincial Readers in Eighteenth-Century England. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006. passim

Confessions of a Periodicalist

Working on The Lady’s Magazine can be a pretty heady experience. Take one magazine that ran for 13 issues a year for over six decades. Add a generous dose of content representing pretty much every single prose, poetic and dramatic genre you have ever heard of (and some you don’t like to admit you haven’t). Finish with the zest of a sprightly community of readers, almost none of whom used their own names within the magazine’s pages. The result: one dizzying cocktail that brightens up your day right up until the moment when the room starts spinning before your very eyes.

Today, after my latest binge on the magazine in preparation for two still not-yet finished papers I’m giving in quick succession next month, I feel it’s time to confess my sins.

My name is Jennie Batchelor. And I am a periodicalist. I sometimes say one thing and think another. I am beyond help. In fairness, though, it’s not really my fault. I mean, I know that old saying about workmen and their tools, but have you seen what I have to work with? I mean, come on!

LM, XV (Oct 1784): 547. Image © Adam Matthew Digital / Birmingham Central Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

LM, XV (Oct 1784): 547. Image © Adam Matthew Digital / Birmingham Central Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

But I digress… This is how it happened. A couple of weeks ago I was sat at my desk having read through a big stack of interesting journal articles, chapters and monographs on anonymity and pseudonymity from the Early Modern period to the present. The goal was to contextualise and theorise my reading of the practice of pseudonymity in the Lady’s Magazine for a paper I am giving at an eighteenth-century studies conference in the US on a panel on the study of women’s writing now that we are in a ‘post-recovery’ moment. The abstract, which I sent off last year, promised to develop an argument that I had begun to sketch elsewhere: that anonymity and pseudonymity pose huge challenges not just to literary scholars but to feminist or women’s writing academics, in particular, and that we need to embrace these challenges enthusiastically. I maintained that the many hundreds of unknown women – the Constantia Marias and Lucindas – who wrote for the Lady’s Magazine and possibly had no more lofty career aspirations than publication within the periodical’s pages demand to be understood as an important part of women’s literary history, even if all we know about them are the presumably mostly false names they adopted.

As Virginia Wolf pointed out ‘Anon’ was all too often a woman. Of course, sometimes she was a man, too. And as the Lady’s Magazine suggests with dizzying frequency, sometimes she was a woman pretending to be a man, or man pretending to be a woman. Its readers commonly wrote in when articles by ‘A SPINSTER’ seemed more likely to have emerged from the pen of the most curmudgeonly of bachelors, or when the spirited defences of the fair sex by male wits seemed to speak more of insider knowledge than of chivalry. Nonetheless, as I contended in my abstract for the conference, I wanted to argue for the importance of the magazine in the history of women’s writing, even if some of its women were pretending to be or actually were men. The identities of individual authors interested me much less than their collective endeavours in the creation of a mixed-sex, but female dominated, dynamic writerly community which was not in the least hung up on the Romantic conception of the author as solitary genius and which set the agenda for the public discussion of women’s lives across the decades in which it thrived. (That’s the short and slightly simplified version, anyway.)

Screen Shot 2015-02-15 at 23.25.22

LM, XXXIV (May 1803): 252. © Adam Matthew Digital / British Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

Yet for all my anti-Romanticist impulses (I told you this was confessional, didn’t I?), I still managed to spend about 6 hours on the day I had marked down in my diary as ‘anon research day’ trying to track down the identity of two women who I have become completely absorbed by in the past few months: Catherine Bremen Yeames and Elizabeth Yeames  (although every single one of their Christian and surnames is spelled or abbreviated in multiple ways in the magazine’s pages). They started writing for the Lady’s in the 1800s and as I was re-reading the issues from those years, I became intrigued by their many, varied and distinctive contributions, just as I was tantalised by the fact that they shared a name and both resided in Norfolk, which seemed to indicate that they were related to one another.

Who am I kidding? I also was gripped by the thought that they had to be traceable given that they had such an unusual surname, untypically given in full in the magazine, and that they were tied to a specific locale. If I couldn’t find these women then I may as well give up the attribution ghost entirely.

LM, XXXIV (May 1803): 253. © Adam Matthew Digital / British Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

LM, XXXIV (May 1803): 253. © Adam Matthew Digital / British Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

Needless to say, I found them. A typo I made in the last Google search I was going to allow myself of the day set me on a chain of web searching that led me to the baptismal records of the sisters (because they were sisters after all), details of their parents’ names and wedding date (not in Norfolk, but rather pleasingly for this project, just a few miles from my University in Dover) and the birth and christening dates of their many other siblings.

I became lost in the websites complied by resourceful and generous family genealogists, who with little interest in the sisters nonetheless gave off hints of important information that led me to understand that Catherine’s contributions to the magazine stopped because of her premature death as a young woman (the family trees I had seen her mentioned in wrongly assumed she died at birth), while her younger sister Elizabeth continued to write for the periodical for many years afterwards and looked expressly to it for help to support her family after the death of her oldest sister and her naval father overseas. Three months after this appeal, Elizabeth married, I discovered, and regardless of whether this helped her financial situation, she continued to write for the Lady’s under her married name (the connection to her unmarried self is not openly acknowledged in the magazine’s pages and would have been known to me had I not made the connection this way). It was a fascinating journey that took me to the will of the sister’s mother (unbelievably available online) and to Elizabeth’s own resting place, in a grave with her mother and another of her sisters. I even managed to get a photograph of her tombstone emailed to me later that day through another website for genealogists.

There is a lot more to tell about the Yeames sisters and a good deal more to say about their writing. I’m not done with them, that’s for sure. So watch this space, as they say. Yet I confess, that on my ‘anon research day’ I felt bad rather than amused by the irony that I spent so much time obsessively trying to find out exactly who two women periodical contributors were that I forgot to eat lunch and only remembered to pick up my kids with five minutes to spare.


But this is what working with periodicals like the Lady’s Magazine is all about, isn’t it? You see, here’s my big confession. I like working with periodicals because they are so infuriating. I like them because every time I think I may be starting to understand what they are about they wrong-foot me and suggestion other, equally plausible, possibilities.

I really don’t believe that our research project needs to attribute huge swathes of articles to known or important writers to put the Lady’s Magazine on the academic map. Even to attempt to do so would, as I’ve already hinted, be rather at odds with what I think the magazine was about and trying to do. Nor do I believe any less in the importance of pseudonymity to the magazine or to the history of women’s writing for all my determination to seek out the identities of some magazine contributors.

I like historic periodicals and I believe that many of them are deeply important because they keep me people like me on toes by forcing me to question my and ‘the disipline’s’ logic and familiar crutches – of genre, gender, politics, period, and ‘the author’ – at every turn. Ephemera indeed!

Dr Jennie Batchelor

University of Kent





Purses, Productivity and a Pastorella ‘past her prime’

Examining the index of any year of the Lady’s Magazine for titles that mention fashion or dress inevitably produces a number of items, yet some of the most provocative discussions on the topic have seemingly unrelated titles. In 1778, for example, contributions on women’s dress are found in long-running serials such as ‘The Matron’ and ‘The Female Reformer’ as well as appearing in letters to the editors. Many of the articles that feature fashion are informed by the major philosophical concerns of the period and function as social commentary rather than solely as fashion reports. Such items, often bearing obscure titles or none at all when buried within the body of lengthier serials, can be easy for researchers to overlook.

Screen Shot 2015-02-11 at 10.07.24

LM, I (1770). Image © Adam Matthew Digital / Birmingham Central Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

Part of our research project’s database includes assigning specific keywords to each item that usefully signal the subject matter in ways the genre or title may not indicate. For instance, a letter to the editor published in January 1778 listed in the index merely as ‘Shapes, fine’ strongly condemns the fashion of stays or corsets. Using terms characteristic of eighteenth-century discourse generally and particularly prevalent in discussions of manners and fashion the letter writer references ‘nature’ and ‘artifice’. The letter, signed H—, then goes on to locate the practice of ‘women’s lacing themselves up’ as one that will ‘entail diseases and deformity upon their successors’ – language more commonly encountered in medical tracts on venereal disease.

Screen Shot 2015-02-11 at 10.06.13

LM, VII (1776). Image © Adam Matthew Digital / Birmingham Central Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

‘[. . .] women’s lacing themselves up, in order to make what has been heretofore called fine shapes, I cannot help asking why, in the name of nature and reason, they cannot appear with the shape which their Creator has been pleased to give them? Why, for the sake of a capricious whim, must they entail diseases and deformity upon their successors? It is a known fact, that the health and strength of many thousands have been utterly destroyed, even before they were born’ (LM, IX [Jan 1778]: 17). The letter writer’s concern is not only with the defiance of ‘nature and reason’ occasioned by wearing stays, but also with their destructive effects on women’s bodies and the health and strength of the children they bear. Anxieties about female bodies and their productivity are returned to in relation to dress in a variety of contexts.


Screen Shot 2015-02-11 at 09.57.08

LM, I (1770). Image © Adam Matthew Digital / Birmingham Central Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

A reader who signs his letter to the magazine’s long-running agony aunt column ‘A Single Man’ laments women’s unproductive activities. Stating that ‘the more domestic women can be made, the better companions they will be for us’ (LM, IX [Jan 1778]: 35) he locates this desired domesticity in necessary and useful work that does not waste time: ‘I generally find the girls about some trifling piece of work, such a knotting, netting, or twisting purses [. . .] the time taken up in the making of it is misspent; it might certainly be disposed of in a more advantageous manner, in the performance of some works of indisputable usefulness’ (LM, IX [Jan 1778]: 35). Such productive, rather than trifling work, stops women from being ‘drawn to the card table’ and allows them to keep the hearts of their husbands by demonstrating ‘a constant attention to every species of domestic oeconomy, which ought never to be neglected for the pursuit of trifles’ (LM, IX [Jan 1778]: 36). Domestic economy, then, correlates directly to women working in useful, necessary, and productive ways.

Screen Shot 2015-02-11 at 09.52.55

LM, VII (1776). Image © Adam Matthew Digital / Birmingham Central Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

The maintenance of ‘decency’ is the purported impetus behind the letter from a ‘Friend to Decency, Delicacy, and Decorum’ who requests that the Matron side with him regarding the female fashion of jackets. The letter writer, however, is clearly more concerned with appearance than morality. ‘A Friend’ argues about the trend: ‘If these jackets can be at all allowable, they must be so only in the young: an old shepherdess, a Pastorella beyond her prime is past endurance’ (LM, IX [Aug 1778]: 412). The dig at women’s age elicits a response from ‘Patient Grizzle’ who states ‘But what provokes me more than all is his postscript: Can there be anything more ridiculous than for a man to pretend to say at what age a woman shall leave off a jacket [. . .] but then I would not be prescribed by any one of the male sex – no, so far from it, that I would put on a jacket at three-score if I liked it’ (LM, IX [Oct 1778]: 527). This reader’s reply demonstrates that although ‘A Friend’ may have dressed his argument in the language of decency, she understands it as an attack on women’s freedom of choice.

The correspondents’ engagement with the magazine and each other reveals the range of discourses embedded within unexpected items, underscoring the complexity and breadth of the archive.


Dr Jenny DiPlacidi

University of Kent


The Supplement, or, The mysterious thirteenth month of the Lady’s Magazine

A reasonable expectation that subscribers have of their favourite magazine is that its publication frequency offers a hint as to how many numbers they may expect for their money. One expects quarterlies to appear four times a year, and in that same time span weeklies should surely do 52 issues. You may however have noticed that some periodicals are more generous than they let on. Monthlies, for instance, will often publish no less than thirteen numbers per year. This is a long-standing custom that we already find in the eighteenth century. In fact, the Lady’s Magazine did this too.

LM, XXXIX (1808). Image © Adam Matthew Digital / Birmingham Central Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

Issues that appear outside the regular run of a periodical are referred to as ‘supplements’. Periodical scholars think of these as an interesting oddity for more than just the temporal irregularity that they present. We want to know what the need was for such extraneous issues. Generally speaking, supplements supply content for which inclusion in the regular issues of the magazine is not deemed opportune, but that the publishers want to be associated with the periodical all the same. They may be there for a variety of different reasons that depend on the particular case. The predominant concern will usually be commercial, and, having to do with the periodical’s market positioning. In the Victorian period ‘Christmas numbers’ for instance became a popular way to cash in on the holidays with an easily marketable, self-contained publication that readers could look out for.

The annual ‘Supplement’ of the Lady’s Magazine too appeared in December, although the magazine had a regular number in that month as well. It starts in 1774 and carries on until the end of the ‘First Series’ in 1818, and over that time undergoes no radical changes. Due to the lack of circumstantial information on the magazine in general, we cannot be sure whether the Supplement came free with the December issue, or whether readers were charged for it. As is often the case with supplemental publications, at least some readers or librarians must have thought of this extra instalment as not genuinely belonging to the series, because the surviving bound volumes of the magazine often do not have the Supplements in them.

The Lady’s Magazine shares all the editorial quirks and inconsistencies characteristic of eighteenth-century miscellanies, and it is not immediately apparent which function the Supplement would have fulfilled. Despite its appearance in December, there is nothing seasonal about it. Its contents do not differ significantly from those of the regular issues, and all the same genres found in the regular run appear here too. The Supplement seems to differ from the regular issues in two respects only. The first is that the usual editorial section, normally found on the back of the table of contents, is now replaced with an advertisement for the upcoming January issue. This contains enticing references to new series that the magazine had planned for the following year, and an assurance that regular favourites such as agony aunt column ‘The Matron’ would be continued. The advertisements can therefore serve as an indication of which kinds of content were especially appreciated by the readers. For instance, in 1776 they are told that in the next year there would be ‘more particular and minute Accounts of the Female Dress’. There are also always a few paragraphs reminding the readers of the rationale of the magazine, and calling upon them to continue sending in contributions. This points to one plausible main function for the Supplement: it was likely issued to convince readers to renew their annual subscriptions.

LM, VII (1776). Image © Adam Matthew Digital / Birmingham Central Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

A second distinguishing feature of the Supplement is the inclusion of the yearly Index, an often inaccurate and incomplete list of the Lady’s Magazine’s contents over the past year. Issuing such an index encouraged the readers to retain their copies of the magazine for later consultation. The Supplement’s abovementioned advertisement also includes instructions to the binders concerning where some of the loosely inserted illustrations needed to go; additionally useful to us today because these are sometimes the only mention we get of long vanished items. The magazine’s inducing the readers to preserve the magazine obviously goes against the disposability often associated with periodical publications. If the readers hold on to their Lady’s Magazines and ideally even have them bound into annual volumes to form actual books, then the magazine is no longer ephemeral like other periodicals. It would thereby gain the prestige deserved for its aim to be ‘the Ornament and Amusement of the Fair’ (Suppl. 1776).

Dr. Koenraad Claes
School of English, University of Kent